Throughout my sportswriting career I’ve believed coaches know more about their teams than anyone in the media.
That’s because they see their players and assistant coaches every day and we don’t.
There are times, however, when I question something a coach has done. That’s normal for a probing journalist. And today is one of those days
UCLA’s football team has been 4-8 the last two years. After three seasons Coach Rick Neuheisel has failed to turn the program around. And in recent months the Bruins have struggled in recruiting while the heavily penalized rivals across town – USC – is on the verge of bringing in another strong group of players.
Frequently a college football coach is judged on his first three years and doesn’t hold the job if he aren’t successful. Neuheisel appears to have survived, but his recent actions trouble me.
He has fired both his offensive and defensive co-ordinator.
First Chuck Bullough was dismissed, then Norm Chow.
This sends a message. Neuheisel seems to be saying the record isn’t his fault. Blame the co-ordinators.
Besides sending that message, Neuheisel is disrupting continuity. Players will have to adjust to new co-ordinators. There could be new offensive and defensive schemes.
This is the opposite of how successful programs operate.
Firing Chow is the move that merits closer inspection. The university had recently approved a contract extension for Chow, who would have made $1 million next season.
Then there’s the matter of Chow’s history. He has developed prominent quarterbacks Ty Detmer, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Philip Rivers.
There were problems with UCLA’s offense last season, largely caused by injuries to quarterback Kevin Prince, numerous changes in the offensive line and the lack of a superstar running back. Chow tried something new, the pistol offense, and at times it worked well.
Does he deserve to lose his job as he heads for new work at Utah? Does UCLA deserve to lose the credibility it had by employing him?
When USC went on NCAA probation an opening was created for UCLA to move up in the Pac-10. Instead, Oregon reached the national championship game, Stanford won the Orange Bowl and Washington won the Holiday Bowl while UCLA floundered.
It’s easy for the boss to blame the assistants, but I see the changes as setting back the program.
The new offensive co-ordinator will be Mike Johnson, fresh from the San Francisco 49ers.
He will be watched closely.